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Soon after I began working for the Professor, I realized that he talked about numbers whenever he was unsure of what to say or do. Numbers were his way of reaching out to the world. They were safe, a source of comfort. [p.7]

Cover The Housekeeper and the ProfessorThe Housekeeper and the Professor (Hakase no Aishita Suushiki) is a novel by Yoko Ogawa about a single mother who comes to work as a housekeeper for a former mathematics teacher whose short time memory lasts for only 80 minutes — needing multiple post-it notes pinned to his suit to help him remember things. Each day it’s like meeting eachother for the first time; still they grow close.

Names are not relevant in such a situation, basic properties are. So it’s just ‘the Housekeeper’ and her 10 year old son ‘Root’, nicknamed by the Professor because his head is flattened like the square root sign: . Just like characters of a mathematical puzzle that need to be named to be able to calculate with them.

It’s a charming, heartwarming story about family bonding between people that are not related. I was afraid I would be bored because I’m not particularly interested in mathematics… Nor do I know anything about baseball, which appeared to be another main subject of the book :-o But I had no problem at all enjoying this lovely story. I actually learned something ;) About ‘amicable numbers’ and ‘twin primes’ for example. You can look them up in Wikipedia but it’s much more fun to read this book! It probably explains it better too ;)

Being a museumgrrl I also liked the concept of collecting baseball cards. Though I didn’t learn much about it ;) But something I did come to know more about through the baseball topic, are Devas. I looked them up after reading the following depiction of a famous Japanese baseball player ‘in the field’.

Enatsu on the mound, his fierce stance like a Deva King guarding a temple. [p.81]

Deva King by Aschaf

Deva king, picture courtesy of Aschaf

Devas are Buddhist deities — those angry looking red giants that you must have seen somewhere, sometime. These temple guardians ward off evil = anything that threatens Buddhism. The biggest museum in The Netherlands, the Rijksmuseum (where Rembrandt’s The Nightwatch is on display), recently acquired two of these statues originating from the 14th century Iwayaji temple in Shimane, that was restored in 1839. Research will determine the exact date of these ‘heavenly generals’ (Niō).* When the Rijksmuseum reopens after many years of building activities — hopefully in 2013 — they will flank the entrance of the new Asian Pavilion.

Bookmark Japanese servantAlthough The Housekeeper and the Professor is (obviously) about living in the present, the story is constructed of memories from the housekeeper. She has a gentle way of telling, so when the story unfolds you know something is about to happen, but there’s no real shock effect.

Because of the Professor’s loss of memory and the sticky notes that aid him, this book of course strongly reminds of the fascinating movie Memento. Except in the film Guy Pearce relies on tattoos — and it’s not a kind story like The Housekeeper… But the book also reminded me of another very good movie: Goodbye Lenin, in which a son pretends their hometown East Berlin is still communist when his mother awakens from a long coma in 1990. The Professor’s memory ends in 1975, the year he had his accident, so the Housekeeper and her son often act as if no time has passed as well.

Now, how do you like my bookmark with a Japanese housekeeper on the left? It’s a print from around 1795 by Kitagawa Utamaro (1753-1806), called Servant Naniwa O-Hisa carrying a cup of tea and a smoker’s set. Would you like to have one just like it? I bought a duplicate to give away! Just comment on this post telling me if you know of any more GOOD movies about memory, numbers, mathematics or science (you get the picture). The giveaway ends on Friday 5th of February and is open to all!

I read The Housekeeper and the Professor for the Japanese Literature Book Group (discussion post) and as part of the Japanese Literature Challenge and 3rd What’s in a Name challenge (category ‘title’). It was a fine story to begin the year with.

What's in a name challenge button

* As far as I’ve been able to figure out, Niō and Deva kings are (almost) the same kind of temple guardians. But I’m open to correction!


The Hello Japan! mini-challenge for December was a direct consequence of our first Japanese Book Group read: The Old Capital (review pending). The ‘old capital’ of Japan is Kyoto — the Japanese title, Koto, referring to that name.

The task for this month is to choose a temple or shrine in Kyoto and share what you learned about it.

A virtual visit, so to say. I started looking for the temple that could have been described in Ellis Avery’s marvelous book The Teahouse Fire; my favourite read of 2008.

When I was nine, in the city now called Kyoto, I changed my fate. I walked into the shrine through the red arch and struck the bell. I bowed twice. I clapped twice. I whispered to the foreign goddess and bowed again. And then I heard the shouts and the fire. What I asked for? Any life but this one.

I found out there are three main temples or shrines with red arches as entrance: Kiyomizu-dera, Fushimi Inari Shrine and Heian Shrine. Since I wasn’t able to pinpoint the exact spot and tanabata herself had already picked the latter, I was left to choose between Kiyomizu and Fushimi Inari. But what happened? While roaming the web I fell in love with pictures of two other temples! Kōdai-ji 高台寺 京都 and Jizō-in 地藏院.

Photo courtesy of Filmmaker in Japan

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of Realmonkey

Kōdai-ji temple was founded in 1605 by Kita-no-Mandokoro (a title for the wife of a ruler) in memory of her late husband. That’s something else than an ‘In Loving Memory‘ bench along the road, isn’t it? I’m especially curious about the teahouses on the property, designed by the famous master of chanoyu (Japanese tea ceremony), Sen Rikyu.

In summer and autumn the temple gardens are illuminated at nighttime by multicoloured spotlights. It must be a wonderful sight! The temple grounds actually interest me more than the buildings of worship… Oops — being a museum employee I shouldn’t have said that out loud! ;)

But looking at the pictures for some time the colours start to resemble Christmas lighting. Of course the bamboo forest by daylight does not loose its magic. But I don’t want to be visiting a fairground attraction when looking for a place of contemplation. And there you have the reason why I haven’t chosen any of the 13 Kyoto temples or 3 shrines that are on the Unesco World Heritage List. So, off to the small and not so popular Jizō-in with its beautiful moss garden!

JIZŌ-INJizo moss garden by Frantisek Staud

Jizō-in is a Zen temple that was founded in the 1367 by the monk and garden designer Musō Kokushi, posthumously renamed to Musō Soseki (no relation to the author of I Am a Cat). It is commonly known as the Bamboo Temple but can also be called the poor man’s Saihō-ji because it is only a few minutes’ walk away from the better-known Saihō-ji temple with its heart-shaped garden that was (really) designed by the before mentioned Musō Kokushi, and that can only be visited after official reservations by mail… The garden at Jizō-in was actually designed by Sokyo Zenji (1291-1374) and attributed to Musō as a founder; probably because of his importance. In it you’ll find the 16 disciples of Buddha ((a)rakan 阿羅漢 羅漢).

The temple of Jizō-in was destroyed by fire during the Ōnin civil war (1467-1477) and restored more than a hundred years later, in the middle of the Edo period (1603 -1868), when Japan was closed to Westerners and Christianity. Saihō-ji and Jizō-in are in the same atmospheric bamboo groves and because of that they remind me of the convent where Chieko’s father retreats in The Old Capital.

I really hope to visit some of the Hello Japan! temples in Kyoto in real life some time soon! Including “Mishima’s” Golden Pavilion at Kinkaku-ji 金閣寺 :)

The Buddha concluding this post can not be found in any of the temple gardens; this statuette appeared before me someday on a Wandelgrrls hike here in Holland.

Zoals ik al aankondigde in mijn post over ochazuke, gebruikte ik in juni nóg een Unidentified Cooking Object als onderdeel van mijn hamsteruitdaging: koyadofu, oftewel gevriesdroogde tahoe. Ik had een kinderversie van kleine blokjes met figuurtjes van Anpanman erop: ideaal voor in een bento natuurlijk ;)

Gedroogde tahoe moet je eerst 10 minuten wellen in (kokend) water of bouillon, daarna kun je het verwerken in misosoep of noodles. In ons geval was dat een van onze all-time favourite miegerechten: soba met spinazie, oesterzwam en walnoot. Zonde, want de tofublokjes waren hartstikke smerig! Ik kan er geen ander woord voor verzinnen :\ Of misschien… MUF?! Toegegeven, net als de ochazuke waren ook déze ruimschoots over tijd ;)

De tofu uit Madeira moeten we maar sneller opmaken! LOL Gemarineerd/gesudderd in een sausje wel te verstaan, met soja, mirin, sake, miso of dashi: mogelijkheden genoeg! Maar het blijft jammer van de Anpanmannetjes want die gingen linea recta naar de groenbak in plaats van in mijn bentobox :(

De naam koyadofu komt van Kōyasan, een berggebied in Japan waar zich een belangrijk boeddhistisch centrum bevindt dat beroemd is om zijn (traditioneel) vegetarische keuken. Misschien moet ik daar maar eens heen om te leren hoe je koyadofu lekker klaarmaakt! ;)

Recept Noedels met spinazie en oesterzwam

Jaah, dit recept is veganistisch — maar zelfs verstokte vleeseters smullen ervan! Het is een favoriet gerecht dat we ons bezoek graag voorzetten. Het komt van de website van de Nederlandse Vereniging voor Veganisme, maar omdat ik al vaker heb meegemaakt dat links naar recepten doodgaan (en we het geheel ietwat hebben aangepast), zal ik jullie hieronder uit de doeken doen hoe je deze makkelijke en heerlijke maaltijd voor 3 á 4 personen maakt.


  • 500 ml dashi, uit een pakje of zelfgemaakt (recept zit in het vat ;) of evt. groentebouillon
  • 220 gr soba, somen of andere soort Japanse noedels
  • 2 eetlepels sake (rijstwijn) of mirin (rijstazijn)
  • 2 eetlepels sojasaus, liefst Japanse (Kikkoman)
  • 120 gr oesterzwammen, schoongemaakt en in plakjes gesneden
  • 450 gr wilde spinazie of biologische grove bladspinazie, schoongemaakt en grof gescheurd (gewone spinazie is ook goed hoor ;)
  • 3 eetlepels olie om te wokken (bijv. arachide, maiskiem, zonnebloem)
  • 1 teentje knoflook, uitgeperst
  • vers gemalen zwarte peper naar smaak
  • 10-15 walnoten, grof gehakt of gemalen
  • 1 eetlepel gesnipperde nori (gedroogd zeewier)

De bereiding van dit gerecht duurt ongeveer 10 á 20 minuten, voorbereiding (schoonmaken en snijden van ingrediënten zoals boven genoemd) niet meegerekend!

Kook de noedels maximaal 5 minuten in de dashi (bouillon). Let op dat ze niet te gaar worden want dan vallen ze uit elkaar bij het eten met stokjes… Doe intussen de olie in een wok en fruit de knoflook 30 seconden. Doe de oesterzwammen in de wok en bak ze 1-2 minuten. Voeg de spinazie, sake/mirin en sojasaus toe en blijf nog 1-2 minuten roerbakken, totdat de spinazie iets zachter wordt. Doe het vuur uit. Breng op smaak met peper. Giet de noedels af als ze klaar zijn, doe ze in de wok en meng ze voorzichtig met een vork of eetstokjes door het roergebakken mengsel. Serveer de noodles bestrooid met een mix van de walnoten en nori. Yummy!

Hoewel de proeftuin in juni qua Japanse ingrediënten niet echt een succes was, ben ik wel tevreden over mijn inspanningen! Op naar de juli-etappe van de uitdaging :)

Gnoe goes ExtraVeganza!


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